the tamago report

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Tag: brevity

Five tips to write (and think) faster

by MDY

Maybe you’re in an exam with too many unwritten words and not enough microseconds. Or your current/prospective employer has just thrown you such a curve-ball of a question that if you don’t catch it just right, you’re liable to get whacked into geosynchronous orbit. Or maybe you need to finish that cover letter or assignment or essay two minutes ago, because that was when the electronic submission box closed. Sometimes, no time is more than you have. You (hopefully) won’t use these too often, but here are some tips to help you write really really REALLY fast (and think even faster):

  1. Pause. That’s right. Even when you can’t afford to, take the time to think and plan what you want to write (or say). Come up with a brief structure in your head, and maybe one or two examples. This should take you five, ten seconds at most. If not, look at yourself in the mirror and answering the insecurities which spring into your head as quickly as possible. That should give you ample practice material.
  2. Speed-writing. The more you write, the better you get. To practice your quick-draw, sit at your desk and take in your surrounds. What’s the first thing you think of? Oranges? Good. Write for a minute about oranges. If you don’t reach 200 words, slap yourself and try again. Repeat. Like speed-dating, but more productive and sadomasochistic at the same time.
  3. Don’t talk smack. Cut out weasel words, jargon, and anything longer than 3 syllables. Trying to buy yourself time with obfuscation and verbal fluff is akin to cementing a wall together using fecal matter: sooner or later, your shit’s going to fall apart. Write or speak plainly and with honesty. If you don’t know, say so.
  4. Stay consistent. What’s the one thing you simply have to say? Got it? Now say it, and keep saying it. Don’t lose sight of your single message – it’s probably all you have time to offer up anyway. If you’ve done 1 and 3, this should be easy: the less you write, the more consistent you’ll sound.
  5. Own it. Write with gravitas. Speak with confidence. Most people will care less about what you say and more about how you say it. And an articulate, clear fool can carry the day far better than a mute genius. If you sound like you know what you’re talking about, people will think you do. This blog is a good example.

In brief: Clean up your mind, and you’ll write faster. Planning, structure and plain diction will help you know more quickly what you have to say. And then you’ll be able to say it.


Selling yourself in 500 characters

by MDY

Today’s post deals with a rather unsavoury topic: selection criteria questions. These are the leeches of the hiring process: draining, mindless, and best taken with a pinch of salt. Personally, I’d rather slap myself in the face than apply to work for people who use standardised questionnaire results as a litmus test of talent. Then again, we can’t always get what we want. Here are some tips for when you can’t avoid having your soul bled dry:

NUMBER ONE: Bullet points. Questionnaires are usually online. They have character limits. These limits hurt – particularly because they negate one of your best assets, which is your unique voice. But also because they often include spaces. So what do you do if the rules suck? Remove their adhesive and BREAK THEM.

So instead of:

Describe a role where you demonstrated leadership capabilities (250 chars)

When working as Chief Security Officer in the Special Taskforce Group of the 21st Ninja Battalion, I oversaw a large-scale interdiction operation against around 800 pirates, co-ordinating several heavy weapons strike teams to I have less than 25 characters remaining.


Describe a role where you demonstrated leadership capabilities (250 chars)

-Chief Security Officer, 21st Ninja Battalion’s STG

-Stopped 800 pirates with 2 heavy weapons teams and 1 grappling hook

-Cool under fire, kept teams organised, held morale strong

We won. (185 characters)

NUMBER TWO: Get factual. Obviously, these selection criteria questions aren’t aimed to test your creative flair outside of egregious ASCII art (which, sadly, usually gets formatted out of all recognition by the time it gets to the target of your job-seeker’s ire). They’re looking for “quantifiables”, by which they mean “things which sound impressive”. Fluff-words like “synergistic concatenation” or “exquisite sales extenuations” are not impressive. Put down the core facts which answer the question, and move on.

NUMBER THREE: Answer the question.

NUMBER FOUR: Be sneaky. Already attaching your CV to your questionnaire? Reference it in your answers (with page numbers!) Got online portfolio samples, testimonials, or a decent-looking LinkedIn profile? Add the URLs. The questions may have character limits, but the Internet doesn’t.

NUMBER FIVE: Be terse. Certain situations demand certain tones of voice. Terseness is often considered rude, but it’s very appropriate when addressing hostage-takers, telemarketers, and selection criteria questionnaires. Cut out unnecessary adjectives, personal pronouns, and verbs. Not only does it save your breath, it demonstrates to the other party that you mean business. Don’t kowtow to the (wo)Man. Give him/her a respectful kick in the balls.


What do you believe your main strengths to be?

I like to think my key strengths are an ability to work well with others while also retaining strong leadership control in achieving deliverables targets. I try to be a “team player” in order to better imbue my colleagues with a sense of the important mission and values of the company, focusing on strategic-level goals while recognising the individual skills of my team.


What do you believe your main strengths to be?

Unswerving loyalty from team. Never misses a deadline. History of terminating obstacles with extreme prejudice. “No negotiation” counter-terrorism policy.

NUMBER SIX: What is this question actually asking you? Selection criteria questionnaires are as blunt and direct as a face-to-face interview, but without giving you the chance to start a conversation or ask a question. So you have to get it “right” the first time. Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast rule to reading the mind of a glorified online survey. But you can at least make a decent guess. Here are three common questions:

Tell us about an important achievement in your career. Good chance to extend the definition of “important” beyond promotions and sales deals. How about the time the school bully made you sniff his underwear? Or when you had to rescue your dog from the garbage truck? The really important experiences are the ones which only you could have had.

What is your greatest flaw? They want honesty, not fob-off answers. So speak what you think to be the truth, but also say how you’ve aimed to address that flaw. Trying to hide your weaknesses is a sign of greater weakness in itself: people who cover up their mistakes inevitably cause businesses to die. So don’t say you “work too hard”. You monster.

If you were a fruit, what would you be? This is when you hit the big “X” button at the top of your browser and NEVER APPLY FOR THAT COMPANY AGAIN.

In brief: I really hate these things.

Five ways to keep things brief

by MDY

Why it’s important:

  • Save yourself time by writing less. Means more time to do useful things, like eating and strip poker.
  • Makes your writing more readable, which means more readers, which means more MONEY AND POWER AND FAME.
  • Each word hits harder, kind of like Bruce Lee’s pinky after he trained it to be a ninja assassin warrior which just happened to be attached to his hand.

How to do it:

  • Write like you speak. Avoid jargon, “filler words”, and obfuscation. If you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it.
  • If you think you haven’t gotten your point across, get someone else to read your work. Add or subtract as required.
  • Keep your sentences short. Less than 20 words. Like this.
  • One paragraph, one point. By point, I don’t mean
The core argument I wish to present in this paragraph is that brevity is essential. However, it is important to note the caveats of this claim, which I will also explore in this paragraph, along with some interesting extensions and counter-claims also offered by my contemporaries along with particulate sub-examples highlighting their lack of facticity.

I mean

Brevity matters. If you don’t keep your sentences short, Bruce Lee’s pinky will steal your money and eat your food. So keep them short.
  •  Always, always, always reread your writing and ask yourself that question which one English teacher always scribbled in the margins of my work: IS THIS REALLY NECESSARY?

In brief: exactly.

Caveat: As Orwell said, break any and all of these rules rather than write something barbarous. You should aim for writing which flows, makes sense, and maintains consistent tone: brevity is a big part of this, but don’t get carried away. Short sentences often abrupt, disjunct. No sense. So as always, think before (and while) you write.